Eerie Stillness at the Center of a Frenzied Crime Scene
Published: April 19, 2013
BOSTON — The scene was extraordinary. The hub of the universe, as Boston’s popular nickname would have it, was on lockdown from first light until near dark on Friday. A vast dragnet for one man had brought a major American city to a standstill.
Bombing Inquiry Turns to Motive and Russian Trip (April 21, 2013)
Boy at Home in U.S., Swayed by One Who Wasn’t (April 20, 2013)
Times Topic: Boston Marathon Bombings
Eric Thayer for The New York Times
The people were gone, shops were locked, streets were barren, the trains did not run. The often-clogged Massachusetts Turnpike was as clear as a bowling lane.
With just a few words from Gov. Deval Patrick, this raucous, sports-loving, patriotic old city became a ghost town. The governor had said to stay away, stay inside. His warning applied not only to the city, but to a half-dozen comfortable towns just outside its limits. The entire region had become a gigantic active crime scene.
The lockdown caught many residents off guard, including Michael Demirdjian, 47, a postal worker who was pulled over by a flock of police cars while trying to take his new puppy to his home in Watertown near the scene of a dramatic early morning shootout.
“They were everywhere,” Mr. Demirdjian said of investigators. “My backyard, everybody’s backyard, front yard, up and down the streets.” His house was blocked off, so he spent much of the day marooned in a mall parking lot where the news media had set up.
Todd Wigger, 25, a software salesman, used the occasion to take a nap. When he blinked awake on Friday afternoon, he was surprised to see how empty the streets were outside his South End apartment.
“This time Friday, there’s lots of traffic and beeping horns,” he said as a plastic bag wafted across Dartmouth Street, a four-lane thoroughfare, unobstructed by cars. But he said he respected the police and wanted to help any way he could. “So here we are,” he shrugged, “waiting and wondering.”
This seemed to be the general attitude as residents contemplated the marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 170 others.
Janet Hammer, 59, a physician assistant, said in a phone interview from her home in Cambridge, near the scene of much police activity, that the streets were deserted.
“Everyone here is really obeying,” she said, not out of fear but out of civic respect and trust. “People realize that you have to actually allow space for this investigation.” After a pause, she added, “I don’t know how long we’ll do it — at some point, people will want a gallon of milk.”
The Red Sox canceled their home baseball game, leaving their opponents, the Kansas City Royals, stuck at a downtown hotel. The Bruins canceled, too, frustrating hockey fans who just a few nights earlier had welcomed the team back by joining in singing the national anthem, with tears in their eyes.
Barbara Moran, 42, a science writer who was home in Brookline with her husband and two energetic young children, said the unexpected time off was like a snow day without the snow. “We made cookies, read books, watched videos and I looked at my watch and it was only 9 a.m.,” she said. At that point, she set up the trampoline, hoping the children would wear themselves out.
The harder part was answering questions from her 5-year-old about why they suddenly had the day off. (She settled on, “There are bad men out there.”)
The day was riddled with false alarms.
Parts of Commonwealth Avenue, a major artery through Boston, were blocked off while agents checked for a potential danger in Kenmore Square. When that alarm proved false, another danger zone popped up somewhere else. And for some, the day and the wall-to-wall news coverage became tedious.
At least one business decided to buck the tide.
Loic Le Garrec, owner of Petit Robert Bistro, sent an e-mail to his loyal patrons telling them that the restaurant would be open for dinner Friday night.
He said he received some negative e-mails from people who felt he was trying to make money off a bad situation. But he said this was not so. After the dreary business of the last week, he said, he wanted to give people something to look forward to.
“Most people need a place to go after staying in the house all day,” he said, “and the staff needs the work.”
But mainly, he said, he thought shutting down the city sent the wrong message.
“We shouldn’t be hiding,” he said over the clatter of dishes. “It’s not us that are wrong here.”
As it happened, the restaurant opened its doors just as city and state officials announced they were lifting the lockdown.